Tarleton State accepts invitation to join Western Athletic Conference, to transition to NCAA Division I

Seated are WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd (left) and Tarleton President James Hurley.

Tarleton State University President James Hurley announced Nov. 12 the institution has accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference and transition to NCAA Division I effective July 1, 2020.

The invitation is contingent on Tarleton completing the four-year reclassification process from NCAA Division II. The Texans will begin WAC regular-season competition during the 2020-21 school year and be eligible for NCAA Division I postseason play beginning with the 2024-25 season.

“What a historic day for Tarleton State University,” Dr. Hurley said. “We are next-level ready! Tarleton is going Division I. I would like to thank our students, Chancellor John Sharp and The Texas A&M University System, the faculty, staff, our communities and alumni for the incredible support in making this move possible.

“I would also like to thank WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd, his staff and the WAC presidents for welcoming us with open arms. We look forward to raising the institutional profile of Tarleton State University at the NCAA Division I level.”

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Tarleton and WAC officials announced the news with several dignitaries from across the country and state on hand in Stephenville, including Hurd, A&M System Chancellor John Sharp and state Reps. J.D. Sheffield and DeWayne Burns.

Chancellor Sharp said, “We’ve all known that Tarleton is a major university, able to compete with the best. Soon the rest of the country will find out for themselves.”

“Any athletics program that excels does so in part as a result of very strong internal and external support,” Hurd said. “Tarleton State University not only has such support, but a long history of success. It will be an outstanding addition to the WAC.”

The Texans were a member of the Lone Star Conference in NCAA Division II from 1994-2020 and won 36 LSC championships, nine LSC tournament championships and 14 NCAA regional championships across 14 NCAA sports. The Texans also have eight individual national championships in track and field.

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“As board chair of the WAC, I welcome Tarleton State University into our highly competitive conference, which is above all committed to the education and well-being of our student athletes,” Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg said.

Tarleton will become the ninth member of the conference for 2020-21, joining California Baptist University, Chicago State University, Dixie State University, Grand Canyon University, New Mexico State University, Seattle University, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Utah Valley.

During the reclassification period, 13 of Tarleton’s 14 sports will compete in the WAC, while the football program will compete as an independent at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level. Tarleton will add women’s soccer during the transition to give the Texans 15 sports.

“To see Tarleton move from an NAIA school to a Division I university in 30 years is a testament to The Texas A&M University System, our student body, administration, alumni and fans,” said Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lonn Reisman. “This is a historic time for Tarleton State University and the beginning of great things ahead. We are not a small college any more. We are a major university.”

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Tarleton will not be eligible for WAC postseason competition in any sport during the transition in which the winner is the league’s automatic qualifier for an NCAA championship (baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, softball, women’s tennis and volleyball). Tarleton will be eligible for cross country and indoor and outdoor track-and-field conference championships beginning in 2020-21.

Tarleton athletes may participate individually in the WAC women’s golf championships beginning in 2021, but only as unattached entries. In golf, Tarleton will not be eligible for the league’s automatic team or individual qualifier to the NCAA Division I women’s championship.

Tarleton will be immediately eligible, however, to win regular-season titles in all sports sponsored by the WAC.

In October, Tarleton Athletics announced the largest advertising partnership in university history with a seven-year agreement with the North Texas Ford Dealers.

The $555,000 advertising agreement runs through 2026 and gives the North Texas Ford Dealers exclusive naming rights to the Tarleton Sports Network, which includes all of Tarleton’s radio and digital broadcasts. The partnership also makes the North Texas Ford Dealers the title sponsor of the new Lonn Reisman Athletic Center’s HD video board that places a large Ford oval atop the board and Ford logos on the visiting press box.

The partnership with Ford started in 2014 when Tarleton Athletics agreed to a groundbreaking university advertising deal for a then-record contract for five years and $100,000.

“Ford and the North Texas Ford Dealers are proud to partner with Tarleton Athletics for the next seven years as we build upon our outstanding relationship that began in 2014,” said Sam Pack, chairman of the North Texas Ford Dealers Board and owner of Five Star Ford. “With the growth of Tarleton in Stephenville and Fort Worth, along with Tarleton’s move to NCAA Division I status, we believe this is a valuable partnership that will benefit Ford dealers across North Texas.”

“As a member of the North Texas Ford Dealers Board of Directors, my number one priority has been continuing the partnership between Ford, Tarleton Athletics and the Stephenville community,” said Doug Montgomery, North Texas Ford Dealers board member and owner of Texstar Ford in Stephenville. “When I walk into this beautiful stadium and see our historic Ford brand on the video board and press box, it makes me proud to be a Tarleton Texan and Ford Dealer.”

The agreement with the North Texas Ford Dealers allows every video broadcast on the Tarleton Sports Network to be streamed free of charge for fans to watch.